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Website editor, three citizen journalists arrested in China for covering protests

A video grab shows a protester being restrained, as paramilitary officers pick up leaflets during a protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, before the opening of the National People's Congress, 5 March 2014
A video grab shows a protester being restrained, as paramilitary officers pick up leaflets during a protest in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, before the opening of the National People's Congress, 5 March 2014

REUTERS/Reuters TV

UPDATE: Two citizen-journalists freed on bail, third still held (RWB, 9 April 2014)

Reporters Without Borders condemns the 13 March 2014 arrest of Huang Qi, the director of the independent news website 64 Tianwang, and the recent arrests of three citizen-journalists who are contributors to the site and who were still detained as of 15 March.

They were arrested in connection with their coverage of protests and other actions that "petitioners" staged in Tiananmen Square in an attempt to draw the attention of officials participating in the annual National People's Congress, which ended on 14 March.

"We firmly condemn the arrests of citizen-journalists and the harassment of Huang Qi, and we demand the release of the three contributors to his site who are still being held arbitrarily without any charge being brought against them," said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.

"Every time the authorities censor the public and those who courageously try to report actions carried out by members of the public, the regime reveals a bit more of its determination to ignore and deny social problems despite the growing criticism it is receiving."

A dozen policemen went to Huang Qi's home in Chengdu on the afternoon of 13 March, arresting him and seizing his computer, mobile phone and USB sticks. After releasing him, they went back again on 14 March.

He told Reporters Without Borders: "There were policemen form the Beijing Public Security Bureau. They notified me of two summonses and around ten policemen then searched my home. Two of them were even armed. They requested information about the website's contributors who were in Tiananmen Square."

Three citizen-journalists were recently arrested for taking photos of incidents in Tiananmen Square. On 5 March, the day that the National People's Congress began, a woman tried to set fire to herself but police officers intervened and took her away. Thanks to Wang Jing, a volunteer reporter, 64 Tianwang covered the incident and posted photos of smoke rising from a spot near the Forbidden City.

The next day, a man aged around 30 threw ink on the lower left-hand corner of the gigantic portrait of Mao Zedong that overlooks the square. The police quickly "removed" the man and set up a 200-metre perimeter in an attempt to conceal what had taken place.

Wang was arrested on 7 March and sent back to her home province, Jilin, where she is being held on a charge of "picking quarrels and causing trouble," which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.

Two other 64 Tianwang contributors, Liu Xuehong and Xing Jian, were arrested on 8 March. Liu, who covered the defacing of Mao's portrait, is being held in a Beijing detention centre. Her husband told Amnesty International that the police were using Falung Gong membership as a pretext for holding her and for seizing computers, cameras and a computer hard disk from their home.

It is not known where Xian, 17, is currently being held.

Huang Qi has served a total of eight years in prison in two stints since 2000. The second one began in July 2008, when he was sentenced to three years in prison on a charge of "illegal possession of state secrets" for helping the parents of children killed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

On 22 June 2004, Reporters Without Borders awarded its Cyberfreedom Prize to Huang Qi, who has been imprisoned for four years for criticising the Chinese government on his Internet site.

The 12th session of the National People's Congress in 2013, when Xi Jinping was installed as president and repeatedly promised to provide "benefits to the population," was also marked by a great deal of censorship and restrictions on freedom of association.

Classified again as an "Enemy of the Internet" in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders report on the Internet, China is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RWB's 2014 press freedom index.

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